The CM/ECF electronic case filing system used by the Minnesota U.S. District Court is a clumsy bit of software, but it serves its purpose and is slowly improving. The court announced an upgrade to v3.1 today (PDF link). The upgrade will happen this Saturday, and will introduce some nice new features.

For a summary of the new features, read on . . .

New search features

There will be a universal search box to help users find menu options and filing events. This will be very helpful, since it can be a real pain to find what you want under the current heirarchy. Need to file a civil motion to disburse funds? Just type in “disburse,” and you will get a link to the menu option.

There will also be a “local” search box within filing events. For example, if you know you want to file a motion, you can select that option, then start typing the name of the motion into the search box for instant gratification.

Drop-down menus

A welcome change will be the addition of drop-down menus. No more clicking through screens only to arrive at a dead end! (Though the search feature should also help to eliminate this.)

All menus in the navigation bar at the top of the page will have a drop-down, cascading menu.

View/download all documents

This is another welcome upgrade. When a party files a document with multiple attachments or parts, it can take forever to click, then download, hit “back,” click, then download, hit “back,” ad nauseum. In the new system, users will have the option to “view all” or “download all,” saving a step.

Cross-document hyperlinks

Last, but certainly not least, is the option to link to any other document in the CM/ECF system, or within any other court’s CM/ECF system. This includes links between documents filed at the same time. Even better, the filer can link not just to a document, but to a specific page within the document.

Linking is as simple as finding the URL of the document in the docket report, copying the link, and linking it within the text.

I do not know if the current Bluebook and ALWD legal citation manuals address this option yet (I still have an older Bluebook edition, to my shame), but I would suggest that attorneys refrain from over-linking. Link the citation, not the text within the sentence. This will keep hyperlinks from interfering with readability and put them in the most convenient place.

As the court points out, linking does not replace citation. It is meant to add convenience for the court and court users. So keep the citation, and link the citation sentence to add the convenience as intended.

The court issued a guide for using cross-document hyperlinks (PDF link), with detailed instructions for inserting hyperlinks in Word and WordPerfect. The court continues to favor proprietary, closed-source software, but is just as easy to use.

Once you have copied the document link from the docket report to your clipboard, highlight the text you want to link, and go to Insert > Hyperlink. Paste the document link into the “Path” dialogue, hit Enter or the “Apply” button, then click the “Close” button. When you convert the document to PDF (much more easily than with Word or WordPerfect, of course), the link will be clickable.

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